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In the beginning, time was divided into dayparts: day and night. But things have changed, as every smart convenience store owner knows. Simply put, our customers no longer follow the sun. Fewer and fewer people adhere to the old scheduling models for working, eating and buying.
Traditional approaches to dayparting no longer apply in the world we live in and conduct business. Dramatic shifts in the patterns of the workforce have changed the spending habits of convenience store customers, providing new opportunities for store owners who are properly prepared to make the most of them.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a growing number of Americans are now working full-time on evening shifts, night shifts, rotating shifts or other irregular schedules. Factor in the explosion in working from home since the rise of the digital era, and the picture is a clear one. "Business hours" now take place at all hours of the day – and that represents business opportunities at convenience stores.
Working With Your Customers’ Schedules
One customer's morning is another's afternoon. We can see this in the fact that 40 percent of all hot dog sales are known to take place before 10 a.m.
Historically, a well-prepared store would have breakfast items primed and on display in time for morning traffic and consistently restocked as needed. The urns would be filled with a variety of selections of coffee; the coolers would be filled with juices; the bakery shelves would be stocked; and the warmers would be piled with breakfast sandwiches.
The elastic and fast-changing habits of today's customers call for a different kind of preparation. For store owners, this requires a different kind of thinking when it comes to dayparting -- a new mindset.
Against this backdrop, it’s important for operators to be stocking lunch products during the traditional breakfast hours of 6-9 a.m. While it is not operationally feasible or advantageous to stock the full line of lunch items, your top sellers should be available during the high-traffic morning hours.
If your warmer is full of breakfast sandwiches, as it should be, keep your best-selling lunch sandwich stocked as well to meet the demands of all customers. Another option to reduce space in the hot warmer would be to keep the full line of sandwiches in the grab-and-go cooler so customers can have a burger whenever they want it, 24 hours a day. This will also help operators manage shrink while serving their customers’ needs.
This same new mindset needs to be applied to the traditional lunch and dinner dayparts as well. A lunch and dinner-ready store should have its warmers full of handhelds, and its roller grill fully stocked and ready for purchase. Your traditional lunchtime customer might come in looking for a hot dog off the roller and a soda, but what if a customer comes in on his way to an evening shift looking for a quick breakfast? It’s important to make some breakfast SKUs available all day so that operators can benefit from these new habits.
Keeping your roller grill appropriately stocked throughout the day is both visually appealing and will help capitalize on lost sales. If a customer is looking for a late-night snack, they don’t want to see a lonely link sausage on the roller grill.
So, keep links on the grill ready for purchase even after your peak hours are over. The exact number will vary store by store, but the financial and customer-service benefits of these late-night sales will quickly overcome the costs of throwing away unpurchased items at the end of the night. Said differently, we see that operators who have about 20-percent to 30-percent shrink on hot food programs increase food sales by more than $1,000 per store a year.
Provide a Product Mix That Drives Additional Purchases
Beverages, snack foods and gas continue to be the main drivers for trips into the store. To take advantage of this knowledge, stores should be stocked with product to complement any beverage. If a consumer wants a coffee after the traditional lunch daypart has passed, they are more likely to purchase a breakfast sandwich -- a traditional pairing for coffee -- as opposed to a hot dog or lunch item off the roller grill.
We’re not the only foodservice industry seeing a difference in what consumers are ordering and when. In an effort to take advantage of the new blurred lines with dayparting, some quick-service restaurants (QSRs) have started testing an after-midnight menu from 12-4 a.m. in order to meet the changing eating habits of 18- to 30-year-olds. And, of course, other fast-casual restaurants and QSRs now serve breakfast all day. There is a real opportunity to compete with those institutions with savvy plans to stock warmers and rollers.
Every customer base is different and determining the right mix for all dayparts will be an ongoing process. The key priority is to identify not only what customers are looking for, but also introduce them to products they might not even know they want. Keeping your warmers and roller grills stocked with varying products all day and replenishing as necessary will feed your customers and feed your bottom line.
John Oros is senior manager of business development in the convenience store channel for the Hillshire Brands Co.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.